Solutions for some of the most pressing issues facing the European Union may be coming from across the pond — in fact, from right here in New Haven.
This past weekend, 100 students from universities across the United States and Europe gathered at the Yale School of Management for the second annual European Student Conference. Over the course of the weekend, students engaged in workshops that focused on solutions to major issues currently confronting the European Union, particularly the migrant crisis. They also participated in speaker events with notable authorities such as European Union Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan and Representative of the European Parliament Renée Haferkamp, who is a special advisor to the conference. The event was hosted by European Horizons, a student-run think tank founded at Yale last year during the first European Student Conference and dedicated to promoting European unity.
European Horizons Innovation Team Director Marco Pau SOM ’16 said the conference provides an opportunity for students to propose new ideas — specifically business and entrepreneurial ideas — to Europe from an American perspective.
“The conference is an amazing, intense event, and that is why it cannot last longer than 48 hours,” Executive Director of European Horizons Olga Karnas ’16 said. “We founded European Horizons so that our idea can go beyond one East Coast school and reach more people.”
Over 50 schools were represented at the conference, with participants hailing from faraway universities like Oxford and the London School of Economics. The conference is growing: Karnas said roughly 280 people applied for the 100 available spots; last year, just 80 students attended. For the second year in a row, travel costs for the conference were fully covered by a grant from the European Commission. European Horizons Marketing and Public Relations Director Johannes Behringer ’18 said the program included six workshops focusing on topics like democracy and institutions, immigration and integration and European identity.
One of the highlights of the conference was a social entrepreneurship competition centered around the topic of successful refugee integration into the European Union. Four finalist groups participated in the contest, including Teach for Europe, which proposed a project that connects rural students with teachers from different cultures, and Eurocousin, which proposed a web client that sets up local residents as host families. The winner was e-UBelong, which pitched a subscription-based digital platform connecting migrant workers with employers through geodata and a collaborative filtering system. The group won prize money, although Karnas declined to specify the amount.
“Essentially, we see innovation as a synergy of good policies and effective entrepreneurship, because we believe European society needs a bottom-up approach that brings the two together,” Pau said. “It’s a combination to shape society from the top down and bottom up through policies and entrepreneurship.”
Originally founded by undergraduate and graduate students from 45 schools across the world who convened at last year’s conference, European Horizons now has 20 chapters in the U.S. and Europe at universities including Stanford, Harvard and College d’Europe in Belgium. Behringer said many students during and after the conference expressed interest in forming their own chapters of European Horizons in colleges across the country. Karnas said the goal is to have European Horizons develop into a strong network of schools that will broaden the organization’s scope.
While the conference has only just finished, preparations for the next one are already underway. Karnas said recruitment for this year’s conference team of 40 people began early first semester. She added that much of the summer is spent tackling the most challenging part of the process, which involves reaching out to and coordinating prominent guests to speak at the program.
“It was inspiring to hear that the students had a vision for and wanted to contribute to a confident Europe,” Behringer said. “The fact that at the end of the conference, most of the participants were interested in founding a local chapter was the indicator that told me the conference was a success.”
The European Student Conference may be one of European Horizon’s biggest events of the year, but the organization also engages in a number of other activities. In addition to the conference, the group also conducts policy research that is published in its academic journal, the Review of European and Transatlantic Affairs. The biannual publication features research done over the course of the year as well as during the conference.
Behringer said the group’s next event will be a spring forum, tentatively scheduled to be jointly hosted in Washington, D.C. with another think tank.
Correction, Feb. 9: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the European Student Conference included seven workshops. In fact, there were six.